2019 Georgia Legal Awards. (Photo: John Disney/ALM) 2019 Georgia Legal Awards. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A lot has changed since the Daily Report announced the Georgia Legal Awards last year, but the high quality of our nominees and recipients stayed consistent.

Nominations were up 15% from the previous year, making many award decisions especially hard.

Recognizing lawyers’ achievements can be tricky because in many situations—certainly all in litigation—one lawyer’s success means another lawyer had to explain to a client why the justice system didn’t see things their way. So please understand that in recognizing impressive results for an attorney, we aren’t necessarily endorsing their clients’ positions.

In prepandemic years, we have announced the winners in a short article in the spring, followed by a summertime dinner reception in which we celebrate the honorees. At the same time, we issue print and online sections highlighting each recipient.

Unable to host an in-person event this year, we announced the winners in an online video Wednesday (you can watch it here), and in this short article. In two special sections in August, we will tell you much more about all of the winners.

For now, here are the honorees.

Attorney of the Year goes to the attorney who in 2019 had the biggest impact on the law or the Georgia legal community or who did the most to advance the cause of justice.

The finalists, chosen by the Daily Report, were:

  • ‌Sarah Geraghty from the Southern Center for Human Rights, who won a judicial remedies for claims by women with psychiatric disabilities, charged with nonviolent offenses, held in isolation at the South Fulton Municipal Regional Jail.
  • ‌David Green, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Global Payments, who led his company’s merger with TSYS.
  • ‌Brandon Peak of Butler Wooten Peak, who won a $280 million verdict for a man and his remaining daughter suing a trucking company whose driver crossed the center line and killed five members of the plaintiffs’ family.

A panel of esteemed lawyers voted on a winner. The panel included Chris Glover, a partner at Beasley Allen and a 2019 Distinguished Leader recipient; William Hill Jr., former Fulton County Superior Court judge, partner at Seyfarth Shaw and a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient; Nicole Leet, a partner at Gray Rust, St. Amand, Moffett & Brieske, and a member of the 2018 On the Rise class; Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South, a 2019 Distinguished Leader recipient; Louise Wells, former managing partner, Morris, Manning & Martin and a 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient; and Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia and last year’s Attorney of the Year.

By secret ballot, the panel chose Sarah Geraghty.

Our Lifetime Achievement awards went to people who left have a lasting mark on the Georgia legal community. They are:

  • Pitts Carr of Carr & Weatherby
  • Jack Dalton of Troutman Sanders
  • Former Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal
  • Senior Judge Adele Grubbs of Cobb County Superior Court
  • Retired Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane of Fulton County Superior Court
  • Jack Martin of Martin Brothers
  • Doc Schneider of King & Spalding
  • Caryl G. Smith of Hunton Andrews Kurth
  • Rex Smith of Miles Mediation
  • Frank Strickland of Taylor English
  • Jerre Swann of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
  • Judge Pinkie Toomer of the Fulton County Probate Court
  • John Zamer of Jones Day

Our Distinguished Leader awards recognized lawyers for achieving impressive results in 2019 and demonstrating leadership while doing so. They are:

  • Yussuf Aleem of Joseph, Aleem & Slowik
  • Cindy Brazell of Holland & Knight
  • Lori Cohen of Greenberg Traurig
  • Chris Daniel of Paul Hastings
  • Tracy Ann Moore Grant of Patterson Moore Butler
  • Woody Jameson of Duane Morris
  • Bryan Knight of Knight Palmer
  • Corey Martin of Martin & Associates
  • Lee Parks of Parks Chesin Walbert
  • Gerry Williams of DLA Piper

Our Most Effective Deal-Makers awards recognized transaction lawyers who get repeat business for how they achieve their clients’ goals so that both sides sign on the dotted lines. They are:

  • David Calhoun of Morris Manning & Martin
  • Michael Cochran of Dentons
  • Keith Townsend of King & Spalding

Best‌ ‌Mentors‌ have helped less-experienced colleagues become better lawyers. They are:

  • Anthony Cochran of Smith, Gambrell & Russell
  • Tomieka Daniel of the Georgia Legal Services Program
  • Harold Franklin of King & Spalding
  • Erin Gerstenzang of EHG Law Firm
  • Ty Lord of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton
  • Roger Martin of Hall, Booth Smith

The Best Social Mediator award recognized someone with a strong social media presence that educates and/or responsibly entertains lawyers about the practice and the community. The recipient was Jessica Wood of Bodker, Ramsey, Andrews, Winograd & Wildstein.

The Legal Innovator and Most Innovative Law Firms awards recognized people and firms tackling problems creatively. They were:

  • Eric Tanenblatt of Dentons (Innovator)
  • Drew Eckl & Farnham
  • Eversheds Sutherland
  • Troutman Sanders

The In-House Legal Department of the Year was Pindrop Security, while the In-House Impact award went to Shelli Willis of Truist.

The Litigation Department of the Year awards went to Brodhead Law (small firm), Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial (midsize firm) and Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers (midsize firm).

Our On the Rise list notes Georgia’s most promising lawyers under the age of 40.  We had scores of nominations, which were all reviewed each by a panel of esteemed lawyers who ranked each one. The panel included: Jeb Butler of the Butler Law Firm; Jewelle Johnson, assistant general counsel and chief employment counsel at Graphic Packaging International; Chief Magistrate Judge Rizza O’Connor of Toombs County; Shannan Rahman of The Partners Group legal placement firm; Doug Selby, a partner at Hunton Andrews Kurth; and John Yates, a partner at Morris, Manning & Martin.

Here is our On the Rise class:

  • Austin Bersinger, Bersinger Law
  • Micheal Binns, Parker Poe
  • Elizabeth Brown, Alston & Bird
  • Kasey Chow, Southern Co.
  • Alexandra “Sachi” Cole, Penn Law
  • Ronald E. Daniels, Daniels Law
  • Patrick Darcey, Executive Office for Immigration Review, Atlanta Immigration Court
  • Dee DeBardeleben of Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial
  • David Dove, executive counsel, Gov. Brian Kemp
  • Katherine Dunn of the Southern Poverty Law Center
  • Jeff Fisher, Kilpatrick Townsend
  • Yvonne Godfrey, Harris Lowry Manton
  • William Horkan, James Bates Brannan & Grover
  • Bess Hinson, Morris Manning & Martin
  • Kurt Kastorf, Kastorf Law
  • Andrew Q. Leba, Change Healthcare
  • Crystal McElrath, Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers
  • Tiffany Mallory Moore, United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia
  • Allison Ng, Greenberg Traurig
  • Mariel Smith, Hall Booth Smith
  • Pamela Peynado Stewart, Lee & Peynado Immigration Law Group

Our Law Firm of the Year award recognizes the Georgia firm that demonstrated a broad spectrum of achievements in the past year. It was a close call, as the entries showed many firms with excellent years, but King & Spalding, with wins in the Deal-Maker, Mentor and Lifetime Achievement categories, plus several impressive entries in other categories, was chosen as the Georgia Legal Awards Law Firm of the Year.

These awards will be detailed in full in our special sections coming out in August.